While I do occasionally mourn the loss of solitary constitutionals, uninterrupted snoozes and glorious moments of it’s-so-quiet-I-can-hear-the-refrigerator-hum, I love seeing my children grow into sharp, quick witted little people. The constant chatter of the toddler/preschool years has elicited some real gems in our house, including G’s declaration of love for garbage vehicles (“I love trash trucks. I want to hold them.”) and B’s astute observation that “fire is not a school bus!”
Language acquisition is multifaceted. It begins in the womb and continues throughout infancy and toddlerhood via auditory and visual input. Reading to young children, then, is integral to linguistic development. Children listen to the words, look at the pictures, and make connections between what they hear, what they see, and what they already understand. Consequently, the more reading is valued in the home, the more likely it is that a child will develop strong critical thinking and language skills.
My sister and I were blessed with parents who made reading a routine occurrence. Our parents read to us frequently, and as we got older we would gather in the same room to read books the way other families might gather to watch TV (though we did that, too).
My husband and I have tried to recreate this in our own home, reading at various intervals throughout the day and building an environment conducive to reading. We have book nooks throughout the house: quiet, tucked away spaces perfect for toddlers who love hidey holes. We allow the babe to choose which books we read, and make reading an active pursuit by asking questions or pointing out details in the illustrations. We’ve even acted out the stories in the books, a sort of reader’s theater for the toddler set. We want to build ownership of the reading process and teach our children that books can be enjoyed beyond the sedentary act of reading.
It’s not always easy to know where to start when reading with young children, so here’s a quick breakdown of developmental milestones from birth to three, along with suggested titles and activities to try at home.
Talk, sing and read to your infant as often as possible. Listening to the sound of your voice stimulates bonding and sets the stage for language development. Provide a variety of books with sturdy pages that are easy for little hands to hold and turn. To hold baby’s attention and engage a variety of senses, choose books with bright colors, fabric inserts, crinkly pages and a variety of textures. Be sure to include books with mirrors to help baby develop a sense of self.
Two to try:
Karen Katz – vivid images, fun tags to pull, simple rhyming text
Peekaboo series by DK publishing – great textures, plenty of flaps, simple text
Language skills blossom between 12 and 18 months. Finger plays and nursery rhymes are great tools for engaging your little one and encouraging a growing vocabulary: their rhythmic cadence and rhyming verse offer fun to mimic words and phrases. For books, choose titles that explore first words, numbers and general topics familiar to baby’s world.
Two to try:
Roger Priddy – first word books partner color images with beginning vocabulary words
My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells – wonderful collection of over 60 nursery rhymes with delightful illustrations; great for reading a few at a time or all at once
Between 18 and 24 months, children begin to associate illustrations in books with real-life counterparts. They enjoy pretending to read on their own and may start memorizing and reciting sections of text. Continue to select books that explore subjects within a toddler’s frame of reference and include books with rhyming text.
Two to try:
Eric Carle – a true classic; whimsical illustrations, simple story lines
Sandra Boynton – Boynton’s books are seriously silly, just right for wiggly toddlers
2 – 3 years and beyond
By age 2, most toddlers have begun to develop a list of favorite titles and will request certain books with regularity. Honor this request as often as possible, but continue to offer new choices with regular trips to the library or story time. Choose texts that allow for creativity and reader involvement, such as books with no text or subjects that lend themselves to extension. Don’t be afraid to choose books beyond your child’s current reading level. Books that are longer or more advanced than your more frequent selections are a great way to encourage vocabulary and reading development.
Two to try:
Antoinette Purdis – Not a Box: Simple illustrations and text encourage creative, imaginative play
Judi Barret – Things that are Most in the World: Fun-filled superlatives challenge readers to create their own list of the “most in the world”
The key to raising a life-long reader is simple. Read to your children, read with your children, and have fun with reading to your children. When parents are enthusiastic about the written word and make it a priority at home, children will follow suit.